Pforzheim Raid - Douglas Hicks (written May 1998)

February 23 1945, this is our fifth trip. We as a crew are becoming more experienced. We still have not been assigned our own aircraft.  For this trip we are again "borrowing" an aircraft. "D" for dog will be our home tonight on this trip which will be in excess of eight hours.

Tonight the target is Pforzheim.

Many of our trips have been eight to nine hours long and on one occasion we missed the target completely and had to  return the next night to do final justice to our  failed efforts.

This would be an interesting trip as we were taking off in daylight at 1600. We would be flying at a lower than normal altitude across France towards our target in Germany. This would be exciting to me as we would be flying over France at around 2000 feet in daylight.  The French countryside would flash by underneath my turret and  I would have a spectacular view of France. When darkness came we would then climb to our previously assigned altitude of 20,000 feet.

Nearly all of the bombing raids that the Royal Air Force made were at night. We would normally be airborne around 2000 hours and arrive at the target area around midnight. Tonight would put us over the target around 2100 hours.

The trip was uneventful up to this point and we arrived at the target area, Pforzheim, on time. Our assigned altitude was 20,000 feet. Many a Lancaster would find that it could just maintain this altitude. The Lancaster usually peaked out at 24,000 feet.  As we approached the target area, the glow in the sky from fires turned the target into virtual daylight, usually, the fires were started by the U.S. Airforce, who would have bombed during daylight hours and by now were now raging furiously. This would transform the target and the sky around it into stage lit setting with a a variety of unimaginable colors.

As we lined up for the bombing run we could hear the voice of what was called the Master Bomber. The Master Bomber was usually a Mosquito, a  twin engine bomber that had incredible performance figures and an unequalled history of many unusual sorties.  The calm voice and pronounced English accent of the pilot had a somewhat re-assuring tone to it and one could almost picture the pilot describing a polo match as he issued instructions,  "Bomb on the red TIs",  "good show men", " we are right on target",  "move up a bit from the red", and "jolly good show".

Bomb doors were opened and we lined up for the final minute of the bombing run.  All of  a sudden the aircraft lurched violently to the left and started a downward spiral, sparks and flames  were visible streaming past my turret and my intercom went dead,  the hydraulic power to my turret was cut off. and it was necessary to crank the turret by hand.  At that time, I  noticed tracer bullets arcing some 20 feet behind the aircraft. I partially stood up in the turret and returned fire in the direction of the tracers, I did not see where they originated from. Looking around, the whole target area was transformed into daylight conditions and when one looked around in the fire lit sky it was filled with dozens of Lancaster aircraft all with the same intent, to bomb the target and then head for home.  With the aircraft still seemingly out of control the thought passed my mind that perhaps I should bail out. I took one look at the burning inferno beneath me and with no hesitation at all decided that I would rather ride the aircraft into the ground than jump into the burning hell that was Pforzheim.

Suddenly the aircraft seem to right itself and appeared to level off.  I was confident that it was now back under control of the pilot and continued cranking the turret by hand and maintain surveillance. Although, we, as a crew were not aware of what happened at the time we found out later that we had been hit by the bomb load of another Lancaster that was flying above us.  It was carrying a load of  three pound incendiaries.

It was not unusual for bomber crews to fly above what was the assigned altitude, the reasons being that they would be above the enemy flak and would decrease their chances of encountering enemy fighter aircraft. This practice was never officially endorsed. A Lancaster carrying incendiaries would have little trouble gaining excess altitude due the lower weight of this particular bomb load. Our pilot was one who went by the book and we would always follow the assigned altitudes we were given at briefing. Secretly there were times when I wished he would cut a corner or two.

One of my crew members came back to see if I was okay and through the noise of the aircraft and sign language I surmised that all was under control and we were now heading for home.

Up front, in the cockpit, the pilot found that he had a fire warning from No. 1 engine and feathered it. This was the engine that supplied the hydraulic power for my turret. With the engine feathered the aircraft wanted to turn to the left, with help from the engineer  they were able to lash the rudder pedals to the full right position. The pilot was not aware at the time that the left rudder control rod and been burned through, just as if an acetylene torch had been used, by one of the falling incendiaries. This added to the difficulties of keeping the aircraft flying in a straight line.  It took virtually all of their strength on the rudder pedals to keep the aircraft flying straight. They rigged up a length of rope and were able to put on full right rudder to keep us flying in a straight direction. I should point out that the Lancaster is a one pilot airplane. An emergency jump seat can be dropped down for the engineer to assist in handling the controls.  During this turn of events the Mid-upper gunner had been struck by one of the incendiaries  while in his turret. This three pound incendiary bomb,  struck the plexi-glass cover of the turret shattering it and then it bounced off  his shoulder fracturing it. He was now laying on the floor in the main fuselage and suffering considerable pain.

Back in my end of the aircraft I could see the two main horizontal tailplane assemblies. I counted six holes in the left side and another five on the right side. At this time I was still ignorant of what had happened.

We were now almost flying normally and heading for home. It was decided that we would head for one of the emergency airdromes designated for situations such as ours. The main airport in the south of  England was Manston.  Now the navigator steered us to the awaiting airport. The sky was heavily overcast and navigation had to be right on. As we approached the area of the airport the clouds spread open as if by magic and formed a perfect circle over the Manston airport.  It was a piece of cake to locate the airdrome and prepare for landing.

All of the crew took emergency landing positions which were in the main  fuselage of the aircraft to prepare for a crash landing. We were cleared to land and we could feel the aircraft descending on Manston.  We touched down and the landing was really smooth, all of us in the crash landing position jumped up when the wheels touched and cheered and clapped.  We had made it.  Or so we thought, our elation was short lived, the aircraft blew the left mainwheel tire and then veered off the runway to the left. As luck would have it, they were installing new sewer pipes along the side of the runway. These were concrete sewer pipes of some five feet in diameter. The aircraft came into contact with these pipes, the undercarriage collapsed and the main undercarriage was flung up, through the wing and the aircraft came to a rather abrupt stop. There was no fire and we exited the aircraft promptly. The crash crew was waiting and the only casualty we suffered was the mid upper's broken shoulder.

We were debriefed,  had our traditional eggs, and then went to bed for the rest of the night. In the morning we obtained a ride out to where our aircraft "D" for dog was resting. We then were aware of what had happened. We counted over sixty holes in all parts of the aircraft. There were holes that revealed the sides of the gas tanks, a shift of one inch either way would have no doubt set the aircraft on fire.  The incendiaries had hit the aircraft, caught fire,  then with their immense heat burned through the aircraft  falling out the bottom, they then continued their downward trip. One had fallen behind the firewall of No.1 engine, then started to burn and fell through, this caused the pilot to feather the engine. There were many holes in the tailplane and we could now see where one of the incendiaries had burned through the main operating control rod  some two inches in diameter effectively causing the left rudder to malfunction. There were some ten incendiaries still imbedded in various parts of the interior of the aircraft that had luckily not ignited  The aircraft was written off on the spot. Again, someone was looking out for me.

While saying goodbye to our old friend "D" for Dog, out in the middle of the airport  we heard, on this Manston airport, an unholy screaming sound.  Out on the runway we could see an aircraft,  not familiar to any of us taxiing up one of the runways. Questioning  one of the ground crew revealed this to be one of the first jet aircraft that the R.A.F. were now using.

Because of what we felt was quite an ordeal, we had expected that our home squadron would send some form of transport to pick us up and take us home. No such luck. We were issued vouchers and given the bus schedule. Still in our flying gear we headed for home.  We were more than disappointed, after all we had not only written off an aircraft but came very close to buying  it.

When we arrived back at home base we were met by the gunners of the crew that was the permanently  assigned "D" for dog. They said "what did you do to our aircraft" I replied,  Hey, sorry, we wrote it off at Manston. Their jovial response was "good, now we will get a new one"

After this ordeal, we as a crew discussed what we would  have down if we came up on the target on our bombing run and found another aircraft underneath us and that the possibility existed that we could hit him with our bomb load. Our conclusion  to a man was that no way would we go around again to make this bombing run and that if he was underneath too bad. It was certainly a mercenary approach and was quickly dismissed from our minds that those conditions would ever exist. We held no animosity to the crew that had dropped their load on us.

Now back to the business of fighting this war.